The Green Bay Packers open up their 2012 exhibition schedule Thursday when they travel to San Diego to take on the Chargers. The game will be televised nationally on ESPN, starting at 7:00 p.m. CT.
Here are five things to watch:
1. Banged up roster
Having at least 17 players already ruled out is no way to start a preseason, but that’s exactly what Mike McCarthy is facing Thursday night.
The list is extensive: WR Greg Jennings, CB Sam Shields, RB Brandon Saine, LT Marshall Newhouse, RB Du’ane Bennett, G Ray Dominguez, WR Tori Gurley, FB Jon Hoese, TE Eric Lair, T Mike McCabe, TE Ryan Taylor, LB Frank Zombo, DE Johnny Jones, T Derek Sherrod and TE Andrew Quarless all won’t suit up. G Jaymes Brooks was still on the PUP list when the Packers released him Wednesday. DL Mike Daniels isn’t likely to go either, and TE Jermichael Finley and RB Alex Green are questionable. In total, over a fifth of the Packers roster is either banged up or won’t be available.
Veterans won’t be expected to play more than a series or two, so there are going to be a handful of guys that get considerable playing time. On a roster as deep as this one, injuries this widespread could be a blessing in disguise for a coaching staff that has a lot of tough decisions in its future.
2. Backup quarterbacks
The injury to Newhouse is likely to limit quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a single series Thursday, if that. He may start, hand it off three times on the first series and call it a night. No one would question that move with the team’s starting left tackle in sweats on the sideline. There’s no need to risk getting Rodgers blown up for nothing.
Naturally, that scenario would lead to more opportunities for backups Graham Harrell and B.J. Coleman. Both need the live-action reps. While Harrell is clearly an improved player so far in camp, there’s no guarantee that the offseason work will translate over into real games. Same goes for Coleman, who has shown flashes in his first NFL camp but probably isn’t ready to be a contending team’s No. 2 quarterback. The arm talent and poise is there, however, and McCarthy will likely be letting fly late in San Diego with his lack of available running backs.
3. Showcasing Moses
Clay Matthews isn’t likely to play more than a series or two, and Frank Zombo has already been ruled out. That should mean the Packers get a long look at offseason wonder child Dezman Moses at outside linebacker Thursday. One of the standouts of minicamp and OTAs, Moses has brought that same intensity to camp.
Most days, Moses is running with the second-team defense, and he’s arguably been the most productive pass-rusher on that unit. Thursday, Moses gives his first look against an offense wearing a different uniform. Another impressive performance or two in preseason games should lock in his spot on the 53-man roster.
4. Defensive line separation
GM Ted Thompson spent considerable time bringing in defensive line upgrades this offseason, and there’s been a noticeable difference in the unit so far in camp. There’s an energy level that wasn’t there in 2011. Thursday, however, brings the first opportunity to see the changes live.
Rookie Mike Daniels isn’t likely to play, but second-rounder Jerel Worthy will. Packers fans are going to see an explosive player off the ball in Worthy that hasn’t been around in some time. Let’s see if he can bring an added element to the nickel and dime packages as a pass-rusher. The rest of the defensive line also needs to start separating themselves as the preseason begins. Guys like C.J. Wilson, Phillip Merling, Daniel Muir, Mike Neal, Jarius Wynn and Anthony Hargrove will be inside guys to watch. This is a veteran group that could really cause a young Chargers offensive line problems late Thursday.
5. Ball security, fundamentals, penalties
There may not be another coach in the NFL that focuses as much on fundamentals as McCarthy, and that was especially true during this training camp. Large portions of camp were given to football fundamentals such as ball security and tackling. Obviously, there was a reason for this madness. Turnovers cost the Packers in the postseason and tackling was atrocious throughout in 2011. Will McCarthy see immediate results in both areas Thursday?
And what about pre-snap penalties? The Packers had a few of practices that McCarthy wasn’t happy with from a mental standpoint, and the Family Night scrimmage was mostly a disaster in that area. It should be interesting to see if we see a more focused team Thursday in San Diego to kickoff the preseason.